Harsh criticism emerged among Christians in Ceuta, the Spanish colonial enclave on the shore of Morocco, after a local Catholic priest allowed a procession of Hindus to enter a church sanctuary while bearing an idol of their elephant-god, Ganesha. In his statement about the incident, Bishop Rafael Zornoza Boy of Cadiz and Ceuta expressed his “deepest sorrow” that has “wounded, scandalized, or confounded the faith” of Christians. The vicar general of Ceuta, Rev. Juan José Mateos Castro, declared the statement, has been “duly reprimanded” for permitting the entry of the Hindu idol into a church.
The incident occurred at the church of Santa María de África, the Patroness of Ceuta.
Rev. Mateos, said the statement, has recognized that his error has caused injury to the faithful of the enclave. He has accepted his responsibility, and his resignation has been accepted by the bishop who he represented in Ceuta.
Seeking to explain his actions, Rev. Mateos said that he never sought that Christians would “venerate anything other than our one and true God.” His intention, said the priest, was to receive a gesture of respect in the form of a floral tribute that the Hindu community wished to make to Christians and to the Virgin Mary at the entrance of the sanctuary. However, Rev. Mateos decided to admit it into the church.
The statement from the diocese clarified that in no way does it diminish the demonstration of love on the part of the Hindu community to the Christians of Ceuta. The bishop expressed thanks for the cordial relations between the members of the various religious communities but remarked that Christians should be “more faithful to our Christian tradition.” Apart from Christians and the Sindhi Hindu community, there are also significant communities of Muslims and Sephardic Jews in Ceuta.
Ramesh Chandiramani, a leader of the Hindu community, said that he does not understand the bishop’s attitude toward the Hindu procession and qualified it as a “grave” offense. Chandiramani said that he remains shocked by the bishop’s remarks, while expressing solidarity with Rev. Mateos. The Hindu leader said that his community would hold a meeting to discuss the incident and offer a joint response. He said that his community is planning next steps.
Ceuta was conquered by the Portuguese in 1415, and passed into the hands of Spain in 1668. It lies just 14 miles away from the Spanish mainland. The other Spanish enclave on the African mainland is nearby Melilla, which was conquered by Spain in 1497. Both have been continually assailed by illegal immigrants who have vaulted over the barbed wire barriers or rushed checkpoints, seeking asylum in Spain and ultimately other European countries.